Neurofeedback is a noninvasive form of neurotherapy that utilizes EEG-based biofeedback. What this means is that the equipment is reading brain waves in real-time while prompting the brain to make slight changes to those brain waves. These slight changes accumulate over time leading to lasting changes in how the brain functions and essentially to how it communicates with our mind and body.
The Brain 101
It is important to have a baseline understanding of how the brain functions to have a better grasp of the magnitude of the impact of neurofeedback. The brain communicates and functions via chemicals (neurotransmitters) and electrical signals (brain waves). A combination of dysregulated production of neurotransmitters and dysrhythmia in brain waves give rise to mental health conditions and disorders.
Since the birth of psychiatric medications in the 1950s, the go-to brain treatment, when talk therapy didn’t suffice, has been introducing artificial neurotransmitters or chemicals that stimulate an artificial mode of functioning. Artificial meaning that once the medication runs out, the brain will go back to its baseline functioning.
Although the world of psychiatry has provided a lot of immediate relief to those suffering from chronic mental illness, there are side effects and downfalls to medication. Some of which are:
- The impact on other organs
- The heightening of symptoms or further mental decline upon discontinuing medications
- Chemical dependency on the medications
- Medications do not help give rise to actual changes in how the brain functions
Neurofeedback therapy was pioneered between the 1950s and 60s yet has been slow to become a go-to treatment. Although it is evidenced based, meaning clinicians and clients can both read hard data demonstrating a change in brain waves, perhaps the lack of instant gratification or relief that medication provides has hampered its rise as a primary treatment option.
Nonetheless, with the growing concern from clients and parents of children who are being suggested psychotropic medications, neurofeedback is gaining momentum, more acceptance, and is being sought after as a non-medication-based form of treatment. Neurofeedback therapy does not have the side effects as medication does. (Side effects will be discussed later.)
Additionally, the changes that result from neurofeedback are lasting changes to brain functioning. Of course, environmental and lifestyle factors can impact the extent and magnitude of these changes.
Neurofeedback is like taking your brain to the gym. Similar to what happens when our muscles train at the gym, it takes time and consistency to start seeing muscle definition and feel the effects of stronger and bigger muscles. Additionally, lifestyle habits will also impact the rate at which we see the physical results from the gym. The same principles can be applied to the impact of neurofeedback on the brain.
Similar to our physical muscles, our brain also requires good fuel and an adequate amount of sleep for repair. Your neurofeedback clinician should do a lifestyle assessment before beginning treatment to create a plan that will help you receive optimal results.